Wednesday 30 May 2012

Agro Blue

Sea Drake
Although the title may seem oxymoronic agro blue has been not only viable for a couple of years now but also a tier 1 deck and has steadily been getting better. Agro blue is a separate archetype to the tribal Faeries or Merfolk, both of which often end up splashing a second colour. It is far more sustainable in a cube as all the cards are playable on their own unlike some of the niche tribal monsters such as Mistbind Clique or Lord or Atlantis. I also think it is significantly better than either Faeries or Merfolk can be as the singleton format really hurts them by forcing them to play very low quality cards to meet the curve and creature requirements. The tribal decks will goldfish more effectively and tend to look nicer as lists however as soon as they face disruption and really high average card power levels they tend to fall apart and have never been better than tier two decks that have some very good match ups complete with some appalling ones.

Wizards are the blue creature type with greatest depth but unlike Faeries or Merfolk there are few good reasons to play wizards, Voidmage Prodigy being the only one close to cube worthy and that is pushing it a little. The agro blue deck does have mostly wizards, of which many are merfolk or faeries and so it can support a few cards that are really powerful but require support from other archtypes like Silvergil Adept or that are fine in isolation but also enhance some of your guys like Coralhelm Commander.
Vedalken Shackles
This is one of the most unusual builds I have gone for and lacks many of the mainstay cards found in more typical builds. I was aiming for a build closer to Skies decks around the time of Masques block where relatively fat evasion dorks would kill while backed up by pitch counter magic. This was to test out some of the many new beefy three drop blue fliers I have just acquired. A couple of the latest Planechase cards have been very impressive and this would be an ideal deck to try the brand new Illusory Angel out for a second time alongside the archaic Sea Drake.

I had some controversial omissions and also made few build errors. The Snapcaster Mage was pretty awful and should have been a Waterfront Bouncer. That was the only major fault however there are many minors and likely some more calls up for debate too. Aether Vial was limp as I had a low creature count and would likely have been better as another cheap artifact mana provider I just felt I might need it well into the late game with high mana requirements from my deck on top of loads of things bouncing the few lands I was playing. Remand lacked any real synergy with the deck and should have been a dork despite being a good card and guaranteed to be much more powerful than any dork I could replace it with. I played Tamiyo over Jace despite the highly relevant mana cost difference in addition to Jace's higher power and synergy with Delver. I find Timayo a much better answer to threats and a more robust walker. She can also offer a greater influx of card rapidly which I felt I might need with my lack of other card advantage. Mostly though I am still gauging Timayo's power in various archetypes and she is coming up looking good thus far.

OppositionThe most controversial decision was leaving Opposition in the sidelines. Generally it is the best reason to play creatures in blue decks and is an utterly game breaking card. You make it, stop them casting things or attacking as you require and win in safety and comfort. This deck had few dorks and no cards which had any synergy with enchants meaning it would make all my cards like Aether Vial and Delver of Secrets weaker. I also really wanted to see if a blue deck was competitive without Opposition as it often seems to win with, often after a desperate recovery due to the Opposition top deck. This was a good way to see if your deck was actually any good back in formats with Umezawa's Jitte or Skullclamp where any deck with dorks could crush depending on the equipment draws. You would simply cut the equipment out of all the decks and replace with something appropriate, or even play 55 or so cards and adjust the mana base and play the decks against each other and quickly the few decent builds would emerge.

Other notable side liners were Cryptic Command, Vendilion Clique, Force of Will, Trinket Mage and Glen Elandra Archmage, all of which frequent the agro blue decks and perform consistently well. Mostly these were to free up space for cards I get to play less often than are purer for the style of the deck even if generally of less power. Force of Will is significantly more powerful than Foil or Thwart and would have been very good in the deck however the others allow me to play around more heavily with the lands for use with other cards. Vendilion Clique lost the slot due to me testing new cube additions that are both 3 drop fliers. Trinket Mage also lost his place as the 3 slot is so full but the decks dependence on islands makes putting the Seat of the Synod in actually quite damaging, particularly on top of the Faerie Conclave.

26 Spells
Æther Vial
Mana Crypt
Mox Diamond

Mental Misstep
Aether Vial
Vapour Snag

Delver of Secrets

Snapcaster Mage
Invisible Stalker
Spellstutter Sprite

Looter il-Kor

Kira, Great Glass-SpinnerIllusory Angel
Sea Drake
Vedalken Shackles
Sword of War and Peace

Kira, Great Glass Spinner
Grand Architect

Phyrexian Metamorph
Sower of Temptation

Timayo, the Moon Sage

14 Lands

Faerie Conclave
13 Islands

Vendilion CliqueI didn't really play enough games to get a good feel for the deck nor did I see loads of the cards but it did seem as if I was fine without Opposition. Having monsters that have both high power and toughness is huge for blue as it gives you some serious blocking power that often forces them to stop turning sideways. Typically blue has chumps you attack into like Sea Gate Oracle or valuable threats like Vendilion Clique that you are happy to trade with if they chose to block. I was very impressed with the Sea Drake, I was concerned it would be a little vulnerable at just three toughness and hurt you too much with the land return effect. For an aggressive deck, especially one like this the returning of lands was never much of an issue as you had control over it. The loss in tempo from losing two land was generally more than compensated by the massive evasive dork in play.

The way the agro blue deck tends to play is very unlike any other agro deck mostly due to the fact blue has very few good tempo one and two drops and those that it does have tend to have obscure synergies with cards you often don't want in the deck. Phantasmal Bear is a good example of one of blues best one drop tempo guys however the inability to equip him and the fact there is no redundancy for him make him a dodgy card to play. So turns one and two are spent setting up or not losing tempo with some disruption at best. Delver of Secrets is both good enough and complete with relatively easy to accommodate synergies. This does mean you occasionally do get the early tempo lead on agro decks however this is rare as well as the only viable way for this to happen. Even against control decks it is very easy to draw cards like Spellstutter Sprite that you want to hold rather than curve out with and so you rarely apply much early pressure. This is generally fine as the deck has the capacity to get huge tempo swings in the mid and late game.

Grand Architect
Grand Architect is the cornerstone of the deck, a bit like Goblin Warchief for his tribal crew, he enables a lot of the essential support artifacts while being a crusade for your rather flimsy dorks. It was his arrival that sparked the archetype and I cannot imagine an agro blue deck where I would not want him even costing three like most of the other good cards and despite his lack of flying! Kira, Great Glass-Spinner is another mainstay of the build even though she often has anti-synergy with important equipment. Not only do blue creatures get the smallest power and toughness for the mana but many of them play important roles in your strategy. Having them easily picked off with cheap effects is crippling when combined with your likely loss of tempo in the first two turns.

The deck relies to some extent on artifacts to support it in the areas it is weak, namely removal although the ability to gain life is quite reassuring. With the dorks tending to be quite flimsy equipment is also highly desirable and so various artifact synergies can creep into the deck. Grand Architect is a complete hero for facilitating this aspect of the deck and makes up somewhat for the rather expensive mana price you pay for your artifact solutions. With potential synergies cropping up all over the place from tribal effects to artifacts combined with a great depth in blue it is all too easy to try and do too much. I always find it much easier to build it from the perspective of what I will need in order to survive and then win rather than what will be good with what I have as the latter ends up being about half the cube.

Lighthouse Chronologist
One of the strength of the deck is that several of the guys can win the game almost on their own. Sower of Temptation is a complete joke if they cannot remove it, as is a top level Cryptologist or Chronologist. Glen Elandra tends to shut down the control and combo decks too. With equipment in play and lots of evasion on  your guys you have even more dangerous threats. The pay-off for having weak early turns compared to other agro decks is that you get to take extra turns, steal their monsters and counter spells for free which tends to win games in which you stabilize. As such the deck starts out as a control deck and then immediately switches into the agro players as soon as it is able which is rather an unusual strategy and part of the reason deck lists for agro blue look so odd. It is not uncommon for you to get so behind that you never fully get to become the agro player and win slowly by getting in with a two power flier every turn for what feels like eternity for all involved.

Some ramp is key in the deck and is well worth the card disadvantage which you will easily make up for against the decks where your tempo will be most behind. The deck has lots of good mana sinks and is generally quite mana hungry. My initial list was less so than most as I was intending on returning lots of my lands however in more common lists for which I have given an example of below after turn three you should have huge numbers of options every turn. When Aether Vial is good it is the best of the ramp even if you don't use it to get out a one or two drop. Saving yourself six or seven mana in the mid game on three and four drops is exactly the time you want it most as you wildly swing the game in your favour with your high curve agro deck. Things like Talismans are a bit weak as they don't help you get to your three drops any faster however few cards do help with this and they are sought after by most decks.

BonesplitterA more typical list

26 Spells

Chrome Mox

Aether Vial
Devler of Secrets
Hex Parasite

Enclave Cryptologist

Contagion Clasp
Spellstutter Sprite
Waterfront Bouncer
Lighthouse Chronologist

Voidmage Prodigy

Sower of TemptationKira, Great Glass-Spinner
Grand Architect
Trinket Mage
Vendilion Clique

Vedalken Shackles
Aether Adept

Sower of Temptation
Glen Elandra Archmage
Jace, the Mind Sculptor

Force of Will
Temporal Manipulation

16 Lands

Faerie Conclave
Seat of the Synod
14 Islands

Ninja of the Deep HoursThe agro blue archetype is refreshingly different, very powerful, highly variable and good fun to play. I am reliably informed however that it is the dullest most depressing thing to play against so swings and roundabouts etc. It allows you a chance to play lots of cool cards like Ninja of the Deep Hours which might be a little more playable with the soulbond dork that gives flying. It can be quite easy to draft as many of the cards are hard to fit into other archetypes and will get you many a free win as people refuse to consider the possibility that you are an agro deck and continue to play as if you were control. The dorks don't matter too much, provided they are reasonably well curved (allowances made for being blue...) provided you have enough, complete with some ramp and some game winners such as the Shackles, the planeswalkers, Opposition and/or the equipment. The Architect is your best card but the deck can function fine without it. He is the perfect facilitator rather than the thing that wins it for you. This makes the deck draftable in most cube lists I have seen and is only improved relatively by being in clunkier cubes.

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